Building Community

Below is an edited version of a blog post for my high school.

I remember my boarding high school years were a mess of social cliques. Even though SPS had much school spirit and many wonderful people, teenagers are teenagers. It was easy to feel isolated, lonely, or alienated, especially coming from a different culture or socioeconomic background.

When I first arrived from Hong Kong, I hardly even comprehended the subtleties of American culture, let alone SPS culture. In my first two years at SPS, I did well academically but struggled to find close friends beyond a few Asians in my dorm. We cooked ramen, watched anime, and were resigned to be social outcasts.

Yet I ended up loving my SPS community. I spent my senior year actively engaged in the school community when I had spent my first years far on the periphery. I found diverse friends, many of which were way cooler than me. I participated in school policy-making, led student groups, and even managed a sports team. I felt supported, loved, and happy. How did this happen?

One true story is that I was simply lucky to have stumbled into a great friend group within my form as it took shape. Another true story is that the teachers, the staff, and wealth of resources provided space for us to bond. But could community have blossomed without the attitudes and actions of our peers?

Over years I began to understand how each of us have the power to shape community. This was most important lesson I learned at SPS and I learned it by observing and learning from a few friends who helped build our friend group.

They had a simple recipe for community building: Invite your friends to hang out with your other friends and make it easy for them to keep interacting. Be inclusive. Then, when they want to hang out, they’ll ask you to come along. A virtuous cycle begins. Soon you’ll be invited to many things.

Our friend group had a few regular activities: A subset would get up at an unreasonable hour to eat “early breakfast” and another would grab sandwiches for lunch at the Tuck Shop together. On Saturday we’d gather in Foster House to watch a movie before heading down to the Rectory. We bantered, debated politics, complained about homework, and trekked out to In A Pinch Cafe. There is almost nothing remarkable about what we did, yet the regularity of our interactions within this loose collection of classmates allowed me to develop deep and life-affirming bonds.

My friends also taught me to be more open to the possibilities of other people. Don’t write anyone off, especially anyone who is written off by everybody else. They will surprise you. Wait long enough, and they will surely surprise you. And if you are kind and appreciate them, they will become your most loyal friends.

I have tried to help build such communities at SPS and beyond, for myself and for others too. It hasn’t always been easy going as it was at SPS, but I know that it is worth it. Not only did my SPS friends sustain me through blizzard and burnout during my SPS years, the deep friendships that resulted from that community also got me through failure and heartbreak as I entered adult life. The secret to community building has made my life many times more wonderful in college and after. I hope you’ll help build communities too. Life is too short to not have many friends.